Those of you who have known me for a while know what a sucker I am for serendipity, for unplanned happenings that benefit everyone, for luck. Planning can so easily turn into planning oneself to death.
I’ve written about serendipity twice on this blog, and I’m sure I will again soon. Today though, I wanted to talk about the second part of that equation: lack of planning. Yes me, the disaster planner, telling you, disaster planners and communication experts, to stop planning. But I have good example that I wanted to highlight that shows how going “off-message” every once in a while can be beneficial. (and it’s nearly a year old example; I’ve been holding on to it for that long!)
I’ve done some writing for a British blog that, frankly, every risk and local government communicator should be following: comms2point0. (What’s up, mates!) Last summer, they had a guest post talk about a single Facebook post. A short video of a rainstorm:
The clip showed the steps outside St Peter’s Church in the city centre after they had been turned into an impromptu waterfall following a torrential rain storm. It was just 16 seconds of footage, shot on my phone under the cover of my trusty umbrella as I ventured out into the deluge.
I decided to head outside after first seeing the ‘waterfall’ from the office window. It was an impressive site and in six years working here I had never witnessed anything like it. As a former journo, instincts took over and I figured that if something out of the ordinary was happening it would be worth sharing it. It was a spur of the moment, gut reaction thing. Not planned, not thought up in a meeting or devised as part of a strategy.
The post went on to be their most successful Facebook post, by an insanely large margin, and the views continue to rise. For sixteen seconds of rain and flowing water. The author sounded just as amazed at the success as you might be:
The video was not designed to promote the work of the council. There was nothing on it to indicate that it had any connection with the council. People may question what then was the point of posting it, how did it help us to fulfill our departmental aim of enhancing the reputation of the authority?
The bottom line, I believe, is that if you want your social media sites to make an impact for the right reasons, you have to give people a reason to come and look at you. It sounds simple and it is. Content really is king.
The video was successful because it wasn’t a typical government post. It wasn’t staid and planned and metricized and approved and massaged. It was something that a real person found interesting and wanted to share with his friends. It was frivolous. And that frivolity is what made the public connect with it.
No one is all business, all the time. (Not even your boss.) They like to connect with people. People that like interesting things. Sure, a video of rain won’t benefit your organization directly, but it will create a connection. A weak tie. (Which can be one of the most powerful things in the world, see this classic article by Granovetter.[PDF]) And who knows what that connection will give you someday.
Now think about your own agency’s social media presence. When was the last time you were frivolous?